Rose for a Thorn

Mirium and he sat entwined on the covered porch of the cottage. They had been speaking of administerial things, like repainting her wagon or fixing the broken shutter in his father’s bedroom. Keelath wished they could move from those chaste talking points, as her scent surrounded him in the late autumn air, her hair a wave of shiny orange across his chest.

“What did you say your mother suffered from?” asked Mirium into his inappropriate thoughts, effectively distracting him from them.

“Old war wounds,” said Keelath. “She was struck by a spear enchanted by evil troll magic, and it poisoned her ability to heal. One of the Silvermoon priests put her on the wrong herb for the pain then, and she still suffers withdrawal from it even years later.”

“Yet she doesn’t go back to it?” Mirium exclaimed. “She is a strong woman!”

“Yes,” answered Keelath quietly, “but not a happy one.”

Mirium gazed at him sadly. “On the contrary,” she said finally. “I see her eyes light up whenever you are in the room. You are her joy now, Keelath.”

“I only hope I can also be her pride,” said Keelath with a swallow.

“Why would you not be?” Mirium relaxed back against him, one finger finding his cheek, but her question had roused anxiety in him again, and he couldn’t settle. How could he explain it to her?

“I want to marry you, Miri,” he said, “but Father is expecting someone more… well, another aristocrat. He doesn’t place much stock in the quality of commoners.”

“Yet he treated my father with all courtesy when they met,” answered Mirium. “Perhaps he should think of me as ‘wild-bred’, no? There are much worse pairings to be had.”

“I see it that way, but he does not,” replied Keelath.

“I wonder.” She sat up. “This troll magic. Did you happen to see the enchantment used?”

“Not personally. I wasn’t even born yet.”

“But your father… There’s old herblore among the troubadours, Keelath. It’s part of the songs we pass down that you nobles, perhaps, have long forgotten.”

“I’m not sure I’d want to repeat what my mother went through with the Silvermoon herbs.”

Mirium shook her head. “When they lace them with their arcane magic instead of the Light, it’s no wonder they go so badly wrong. I’m quite serious, Keel. You helped my family in much the same way. Let me help yours. It won’t repay the debts you owe the priests, but at least I’d feel better that we are even.”

“And perhaps Mother could walk again,” said Keelath wistfully. He paused. “Will you sing me the old songs? Even if we choose another path, I’d like to hear them, this wisdom you tell of.”

So she did. He soon got lost in the ream of plants and minerals, with such fanciful names as Peacebloom, Blackiron, and Silversage. He instead fell to watching her lips move as she chanted, the expression on her face one of perfect focus. He smiled. She was no soft noble lady, but he had never wanted that type. He would have married her just for her voice, but like the naga, her troubadour’s mask had hidden all kinds of surprises behind it. They were good ones.

She let the last line fade away, retaking her place snuggled into his side. They gazed across the grounds, and a cold wind began blowing up from the south. Keelath considered tugging out the blanket stashed under the porch seat, but he was too lazy to rise, and Mirium’s heat kept him warm.

“Do you know what marriage is to a noble?” he asked finally, when nothing else stirred.

“A granting of the title,” said Mirium almost immediately, and she shifted enough in her spot she could look up at him. “But that’s not all, is it?”

Keelath shook his head. “It’s also responsibility, and… well, children.”

Her eyes grew glassy, and he saw she understood. He clasped her hand, bringing it before him to kiss, then looped his arms comfortably about her waist. Mirium laid her head on his chest without a word.

“It wouldn’t have to be immediate,” he said. “You know, of course, that we might take many years to conceive.”

“But eventually, conceive I would have to,” said Mirium softly.

“I’m not sure ‘have to’ is the right word,” said Keelath. He paused. “Do you think you would never wish for children?”

“I’ve thought about it, especially since we’ve grown close,” answered Mirium. “It is not so much that I don’t want them as that it… scares me.”

“Why?” said Keelath. “Its a natural thing to do, to have, is it not?”

“Yes,” said Mirium, and he felt her relax. “And I think of how cute those foals are. But it would mean I couldn’t travel. I would have to stay here, until the babe was grown, and then there would be others after that.”

“I like when you are here,” said Keelath softly.

“You are not likely to be here as often, until your service is up,” Mirium whispered back.

His heart was racing despite his calm words, and he spread his hands down the small of her back, along her thighs. He felt all of her pressed against him, heart, stomach, legs, and it kindled a fire in him, though he tried to not let his desire show.

Mirium sat up suddenly anyway, and so did he, about to apologize, but she leaned into him again without fear. “Yet if I did not choose, I’d eventually wander those roads, barren and alone. I grew up seeing what the road did to my kindred, breaking us apart, spreading us out all across the map, not letting some relationships even form if they could not keep up with the wagons… I wouldn’t want that for all my life.”

“You would not have to give the road up entirely,” said Keelath. “Whenever I travel, so could you. We only have need of the one heir, and we may yet live for centuries to make it happen.”

Mirium smiled. “Certainly I’d find no better husband than you in all those centuries.”

It lit off a roar of triumph inside him, down near his belly. He leaned her back, and she readjusted so her legs were about him. They breathed each other’s breath as they quested across each other’s torsos with their fingers.

“I love you,” said Keelath huskily.

“And I, you,” whispered Mirium. “If its that important to you, I’ll try. What else could I do, since you shackled yourself to the king for my father’s sake?”

“It wasn’t meant to have strings attached,” Keelath muttered.

“Wasn’t it?” said Mirium with a grin. “And I suppose we will settle that debt soon enough. Yet there is another…”

“Um?” inquired Keelath, as she seized his collar, but she didn’t answer the question immediately, stifling his query with a kiss.

“If we are to talk of heirs, it’s time we Marked one another,” she explained. “I don’t know about children, but I am certain of my choice in you, Keelath. I am ready to make that commitment now.”

He was about to tell her that without the promise of an heir, marriage and Marking would be meaningless to his father, but it suddenly didn’t seem so important. When she kissed him again, she opened her lips to him, as she never had before. Keelath lost himself as she invited him down onto her, hands spreading to areas once forbidden. Then the heat was back in his head and belly, and he was the one who led her.

Once decided, the act was quick. Keelath later collapsed on her as his passion played out, kissing her neck and feeling all was right with the world. Mirium’s soft breath was in his hair.

“Now we are Marked,” he murmured. He gave a shiver, though it was just as much his feelings as it was cold air against exposed skin. “Will you be mine, for as long as we might live, Mirium?”

“Yes,” Mirium answered, still breathless. He shifted so she was pillowed against his chest again, his heartbeat in her ears. “O Scourge of the Seas,” she murmured, and Keelath startled to find her saying the lines she had refused on that disastrous stage so long ago. Or was it so disastrous, considering she was in his arms now? He grinned.

“O Scourge of the Seas, I see the curtain has parted, your true form at last revealed to me. And though our end may approach, I go now to your arms to await it with contentment, for your love was ever more precious to me than a long life without.”

“You have long held that I saved you from the maw of the dragon turtle,” replied Keelath, dredging his memory for the play’s end. It came easier than he expected, almost as if they were living the part, and he could almost taste sea-salt in the wind. “Yet it is you who have saved me from this dreary existence as a roving monster of the depths. We go now in peace before the Light.”

He smiled at her. She returned it. “Blessed be,” declared Mirium, then, softer, “I love you, Keelath.”

“And I, you, Fair Miri,” said Keelath, and he kissed her as he reached down, drawing the coverlet folded under the seat over both their heads. It fell across their faces like a wave, but unlike in the play, they were safe and warm underneath its embrace, curled together with many a hope for the future.

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